“Ready for Anything” - How to Make It to the Super Bowl, an IT Perspective

By Aaron Amendolia, Director of Infrastructure, National Football League

No matter the industry, organizations and businesses of all sizes must always have a game plan in place that will help mitigate an unexpected crisis. For the infrastructure IT team at the National Football League there is the very real possibility that if anything goes wrong with our infrastructure, we will have to contend with a crisis in the middle of one of the most-watched sporting events in the world.

Throughout the year, we do everything we can to assess scenarios for risk, and identify the technologies and processes we need to mitigate those risks. But over the course of more than a decade as a leader in the NFL’s IT organization, there is one fundamental lesson that I have learned that I believe is applicable to all IT organizations.

Be ready for anything.

It doesn’t matter whether you are supporting incredibly complex, high-visibility events or “just” managing the escalating data needs increasingly inherent to business success. Being an effective, efficient and highly functional IT organization demands having the capacity, technology and preparedness to respond quickly and effectively to any challenge.

It is easy to consider the sheer scope and complexity of an event as singular as the Super Bowl and dismiss it as completely outside the realm of scope or possibility for most organizations. For this year’s game, we will be contributing to everything from IT plans, for the stadium broadcast compound and the teams themselves, to the connectivity needs for the army of sports press and media, to ticket scanning and processing of more than 45,000 different security credentials. Data and apps will be running off of a shared infrastructure from our New Jersey and Park Avenue data centers.

Certainly, this is a unique event, with very specific and diverse IT needs. But as data becomes increasingly mission critical to all types of businesses, the challenges and expectations that all IT organizations must face are becoming more common.

At the NFL, like many IT organizations, we execute with a small core team. We all wear many different hats and share ideas between the NFL Clubs and our peers in the industry to learn about how others are innovating and applying best practices. Many people are surprised to learn that the incredible IT needs of the Super Bowl are handled by the same small team that supports the regular season, which is a testament to teamwork and technology. NetApp for example, is the data storage technology that supports our shared infrastructure. We rely heavily on the NetApp Data ONTAP storage operating system for the data management functionality it provides such as disaster recovery protection, etc.

For today’s IT, it is nearly impossible to meet the needs of an organization without an infrastructure you trust. By providing the power, agility, and scalability that we require, our NetApp system plays a critical role all season long. But during the post-season in particular, NetApp enables us to quickly draw up proactive IT plans for each of the four final teams and then implement two of them during the short lead up to the Super Bowl in the midst of other activities. 

In addition to those plans, we must quickly implement infrastructures and be ready to support the IT needs of worldwide media and photo

graphers along with our league staff.

New innovations in our infrastructure have allowed us the ability to provide much more to our users. We feel confident we can handle new requests that we may have been unable to in the past.  We’ve been challenged by how to host equipment at remote sites, how to connect it to meet performance demands, or had concerns it could jeopardize the stability of a system that had already been tested and deemed stable. With our current IT deployment, we have much greater ability to respond to the needs of the moment—large or small—and handle new things as they come up.

Like all IT organizations, we contend with the fact that service and performance expectations are getting higher every day. For NFL employees, as well as our vendors and our partners, there is greater demand for data access and collaboration than ever before. For our users, our infrastructure must work the same from home or remotely as it does across all offices, with no degradation of performance, no downtime and no miscalculations.

To do that, we need technology we can rely on, no matter what. For the NFL’s data storage needs, that means NetApp—both for the technology, and for the company’s commitment as a strategic partner. If there is one thing I have seen time and again working at the NFL, it is what can be accomplished with speed, power, agility—and great teammates.